Photograph by Wyatt Dexter
Eighty is Enough: Nobody is a stranger at an Outstanding in the Field dinner, which is always served family-style.
Restaurant Review: Outstanding in the Field
The Santa Cruz-born mise-en-scene dining experience heads back home to close the season.
By Denise Vivar
Wouldn't it be nice to have at your table the man who shaped the wood for its parts? To hold the hands of the person who knit your sweater and wove your rug? How satisfying it might feel to raise a toast with the brewer of your beer and the glass blower who fashioned its vessel. In these modern days most of us, to a great extent, live lives devoid of such simple alliances.
One of the pleasures of eating food prepared by someone other than us is that it gives us that connection to another. We are bound, however briefly, by this act of creation, even if it's with an unknown cook behind the kitchen door. Knowing the chef, of course, strengthens the connection, and knowing the grower of the food shifts you into an even deeper symbiotic union.
Bringing the chef and the farmer to the table has become fashionable in recent years, but bringing the diner to the farm is a whole other endeavor. Jim Denevan, former Gabriella Café chef, and his Outstanding in the Field (OiTF) crew have been doing just this for a few seasons. They tote tables, chairs, linens and flatware around the country and set up dining rooms right at the source of the harvest. From Vancouver to Nantucket, in fields, vineyards, sea coves and gulches, OiTF has brought guest chefs and hundreds of diners to the cultivators of North America's farmlands.
This summer the Outstanding folks made a stop in Santa Cruz, and I was fortunate enough to join the group at its table. Jeff Larkey of Route 1 Farm graciously hosted the dinner, and Damani Thomas of Oswald in Santa Cruz was guest chef.
We met in midafternoon at Route 1 Farm, at the edge of a field of greens. The vintners for the dinner, Gregory Nolten and his wife, Kathleen Starkey, of Zayante Vineyard greeted us. I mingled among the several dozen other guests as we enjoyed cool glasses of Zayante's 2004 Santa Cruz Mountain Estate Chardonnay. Across the field the long table with its crisp white linens was set and waiting while Thomas' grills sent alluring wafts of smoke our way.
After Denevan's welcome, Larkey guided us around the field as he spoke about life at Route 1 Farm and answered queries from the many out-of-town guests. Occasionally he would stop, and as we stood in the sun, sinking into the rich dark earth, we all leaned in to learn about the dynamics of pesticide-free farming, crop diversity and farmworkers' rights. We rounded the rows of cilantro and guests eagerly made their way to the long stretch of table.
As we settled in and acquainted ourselves with our fellow diners, the atmosphere was festive and lively, and the anticipation for what we were about to share was palpable. Each dinner is a lavish five-course spread served family-style.
We started with an appetizer of Oswald's tomato tartine, paired with the 2005 Clos du Z, a crisp blend of Grenache and petit syrah. This was followed by a marinated vegetable salad with basil oil and pecan served with the 2004 Chardonnay. There were succulent heirloom tomatoes in various colors, golden and red beets, crisp green beans, goat cheese to die for, tender diced potatoes, sweet onions and rustic grilled bread.
Next came platters full of slow-roasted salmon with a brilliant multicolor pepper relish, now paired with the 2005 Zinfandel. To grill and serve a perfect salmon for six at a time is a talent, for 30 it's a feat and for 100 it must be witchcraft.
By now we were all fast friends, posing for photos, trading business cards and serving each other second and third helpings. Somewhere I found room for the superb fourth course—grilled Niman Ranch country-style pork chops with a fennel marmalade, summer squash and roasted new potatoes. This and the 2003 Merlot.
At this point Denevan and crew, plus Thomas, Larkey and vintners Nolten and Starkey, along with each of the artisans and growers who provided our dinner—Hans and Heidi Haveman of H&H Fish, Companion Bakery, Kashiwase Farm, Live Earth Farm, Niman Ranch and Van Dyke Ranch—all stood before us and took a well-deserved bow to resounding applause for their part in our shared meal.
As the sun surrendered to the twilight and cast a glow of amber and plum across the field, a warm stone fruit and berry cobbler with fresh whipped cream was served. I savored the final moments of our communal breaking of bread, as we raised our glasses to our local food growers.
OUTSTANDING IN THE FIELD
Next dinner: Dec. 2 at a secret location in the Santa Cruz Mountains,
with chef Sean Baker of Gabriella Café
For information and reservations, visit www.outstandinginthefield.com.
Send a letter to the editor about this story.